A division of Nevada-based Plasma Etch, Inc. -- Plasma Sterilizations, LLC -- and The University of Edinburgh's commercialization arm, Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), have agreed to license a new decontamination process for surgical instruments that employs plasma-treatment systems to remove microscopic proteins, or prions, that are resistant to traditional cleaning methods and cause rare and incurable neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans and mad cow or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in animals.

Many healthcare professionals discard instruments such as neurosurgical scissors after a single use when they're used for procedures likely to leave behind CJD-infected tissue as prions are resistant to conventional chemical or physical decontamination procedures, according to ERI researchers. Patients, however, remain vulnerable to possible CJD infection when instruments -- used on patients diagnosed or undiagnosed with CJD -- retain infected tissue and are re-used.

ERI's new process, or MIDAS, will effectively reduce the incidence of CJD infection and number of operations cancelled due to contaminated instruments, according to ERI researchers. The team at ERI also reports that their studies demonstrate that the MIDAS process is at least 1,000 times more effective than traditional cleaning methods and does not damage surgical instruments.

"When you look at the cost and liability associated with CJD prevention at the instrument level and then look at it from a public health standpoint, we think it's clear that the MIDAS process is a significant step forward," said Greg DeLarge, president of Plasma Etch. "And we're certainly proud of the role our systems play in ERI's work to prevent the spread of disease."

The MIDAS process uses radio frequency (RF) gas plasma, a high-energy ionized form of gas, to clean the surface of the instruments and break down infectious biological tissue into innocuous gases, according to ERI researchers.

DeLarge added that the MIDAS process builds on current sterilization methods and occurs after surgical instruments are thoroughly washed en route to being steamed.

"This University of Edinburgh technology is clearly a major advance over current capability in surgical instrument cleaning," said Tom Higgison, MSc, BSc, ERI's technology strategy manager. "It is now over to industry and the health professions to engage with us in rolling out the necessary equipment."

ERI officials have applied for a patent for their decontamination process and plan to offer MIDAS licenses to medical-supply companies. The process can also be applied in the fields of dentistry and veterinary surgery and is under investigation for use in combating biocontamination, according to ERI researchers.

"We are excited at the prospect afforded by this collaboration of developing our laboratory-based studies into efficient and practical solutions for what is a serious problem in healthcare," said Robert Baxter, who led development of the process and is a professor at the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry.

The news from Plasma Etch comes as the company plans to demonstrate one of its plasma-treatment systems for medical design and manufacturing professionals, the PE-100, at MD&M East booth 1349 from June 3-5 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The latest version of the PE-100 is outfitted with a standard mass-flow meter and precision needle valve gas train.

About Plasma Etch, Inc.

Plasma Etch, Inc. is a designer, manufacturer and global distributor of vacuum plasma systems that clean, modify and etch treated surfaces to enable customers' manufacturing processes. The company was founded in 1980 and holds patents for the temperature-control system and electrostatic shielding found in its vacuum chambers. The company's vacuum plasma systems are used by manufacturers of medical devices, printed circuit boards (PCBs), IC packages, connectors and wafer-processing equipment. Plasma Etch's clients have included NASA and various industry-leading brands such as Boeing, Honeywell and Lockheed Martin. The company is based in Carson City, Nev. and prides itself on offering personalized technical support worldwide for its complete line of systems.

Plasma Etch, Inc.